Video Meetings Keep Teams on Task (And Out of the Bathroom!)

A consequence of globalization is that today's collaborators are often spread across the country or world. As such, conference calls have become a standard form of communication.

The good news is that although audio-only calls have been dominant, increasingly affordable and easy-to-use video conferencing is gaining a lot of ground. Adding a video element helps colleagues focus on the task at hand and not distract themselves.

Mute Button Mishaps

A popular YouTube video, "A Conference Call in Real Life," offers an all-too-familiar humorous view of how conference calls often play out in the real world. With more than 14 million views and thousands of shares, it's clear a lot of people recognize their colleagues (or perhaps themselves) in this amusing short.

Sometimes truth is as funny as fiction, so we polled some colleagues for examples of audio calls gone wrong. These examples are all real, though identity has been obscured to protect the not-so-innocent.

One example that echoes what was shown in the video is the notorious misuse of the mute button. Robert, a business analyst for a utility technology firm, said, "I was on a large conference call with a customer and a third-party software vendor. There was a lot of finger-pointing about who was responsible for a small catastrophe. The third-party team thought they muted the phone, then started a short side discussion that began, 'What a bunch of [expletive] idiots!' We let them go for another sentence or two, then interrupted with a polite, 'Um, you forgot to mute the phone.'"

On a video call, such negative-talk side conversations are far less common since the experience is more like everyone being in the same room. Keeping it positive is far more polite -- and probably more productive, too.

The Myth of Multi-tasking

Another big problem with audio conferencing is that while people may be dialed in to a call, they aren't necessarily dialed in to the conversation. Even trying to do multiple work tasks, with the best of intentions, may be counterproductive. Neuroscience studies show the quality of your output drops dramatically when you multi-task.

And then there are the less well-intentioned participants, and we know who they are: From noisily munching on chips to zoning out while checking out social media or shopping, audio call participants are often doing everything but actively engaging in the call itself. If a group of people dial in to a conference call and don't pay attention, did you really have a meeting at all? It's like an alternate reality: People are on the line, but they aren't really there.

Multi-tasking can also result in background noise, which can affect those who are actually serious about the meeting: The temptation to dial into audio calls from awkward and inappropriate places such as on a busy street, while taking the kids to school, or while sitting in the drive-thru line can and does interrupt conversation in many awkward ways.

Michelle, a financial services executive, confessed: "I also once ducked out of work to watch an international soccer match at a sports bar, but wanted to be responsible and join a call conveniently scheduled at halftime. I went down to the basement of the bar, figuring it was far enough away from the TVs. Unfortunately, the bar also was playing another game, too. I was off mute, explaining something to my co-workers when a team scored, and the place erupted in cheers. The whole call was stunned into silence until someone asked, 'Where are you dialing in from, an end-zone?!' I shrugged it off and kept going, but I know people remember it."

Leslie, an administrative professional, had a brief but evocative response about someone else's very awkward moment (not hers, she emphatically explained): "Two words: Toilet noises."

We don't need to explain why these situations would never happen on a video call, right?

Video Conferencing Promotes Productivity

Video conferencing provides a great solution because it requires more focus, promotes single-tasking and encourages efficiency. Unlike audio-only calls, video collaboration involves more than just a single sense. Participation isn't only by voice, and colleagues watch each other throughout. Research shows that 90% of information transmitted to your brain is visual, so it can be easier to remember who said what during a video conference when you saw who was speaking. Additional visual elements, such as content sharing, can further enhance a video conference.

Participants are also usually more prepared and engaged when in video meetings. Being in front of a conference camera encourages some preparation to ensure both you and your background look professional. This subconsciously puts you in a business mode, signaling your brain to be alert and ready to respond, just as you would during an in-person meeting.

Beth, an engineering manager, told us of a colleague who could have used an extra measure of alertness: "I had someone fall asleep while I was presenting on an audio call. It was not a large group, and he was a key player. He was snoring, so we had to have someone call his cell phone and wake him up. He then called me directly afterward to apologize, blame it on his cold medication, and say it was actually one of the most interesting calls he'd been on."

Next time, Beth, may I suggest video? And perhaps an airhorn?

Learn more about video conferencing trends and technologies at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Video track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.